CNN "Larry King Live" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Keith Ellison Pete King
Date: Aug. 18, 2010
Location: Unknown

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KING: Thanks, Arwa. Arwa Damon, our CNN correspondent, who of course staying atop this historic story which will really be complete August 31st.

We're joined now by Representative Peter King, Republican congressman from New York. He's opposed to the Islamic center and mosque at Ground Zero. And Keith Ellison, Democrat, from Minnesota. He's the first Muslim elected to Congress and he supports the Islamic center and mosque.

Congressman King, if -- if it's not a legal question, why can't they build it?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: First of all, Larry, let me make clear that the Muslim community has the absolute right to build a mosque. But I think it's the wrong location. It's the wrong time. And it's insensitive.

The fact is that there's so many people were murdered that day on September 11th. And to have this 13-story, $100 million edifice constructed, barely 500 feet from Ground Zero is causing tremendous pain certainly to many of my constituents who lost their friends and neighbors that day.

And to me, the fact is whether or not -- obviously, 99 percent of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans. The fact is that this attack was carried out by an Islamic force. And to have that mosque that close to Ground Zero I think is just -- it puts salt into wounds.

I think Governor Paterson is entirely right. I've had discussions with Governor Paterson. If he can make another site available through state property or a land swap which would satisfy all these -- the Muslim community; at the same time, satisfy the legitimate needs of family members who feel very offended by this or very struck by it. I think that is the route to go. I think that Muslim officials, including the developer, should find a way to sit down with the governor.

KING: Congressman Ellison, it's legally OK, but how about Congressman King's point that there's a sensitive question here?

ELLISON: Well, of course it's sensitive. But the fact is constitutional rights must always take precedence over people's sensitivities. There are, in fact, a number of people who were first responders and who lost loved ones in 9/11 who support President Obama's position and that of Mayor Bloomberg and that of Representative Nadler and that of Representative Wiener, who all believe that there's no problem with the developer and the organizers going forward with the mosque project -- with the Islamic center project.

So the fact is, you know, we cannot simply yield to sensitivities when constitutional rights are involved. And, plus, I think -- I'm concerned about the international picture and the message that it sends. You know, the fact is that our constitutional rights are our best protection, because we send the signal that America's about -- is about tolerance and about religious inclusion.

If we send an opposite message, basically, we allow the Anwar al- Awlakis and the Osama bin Ladens to say, see, America's at war with Islam. And that's a message that I'm absolutely against ever being sent out. I want America to stand firm on the idea of liberty and religious tolerance, as we always have.

KING: Congressman King, isn't that a good point?

P. KING: Larry, the fact is that rights have responsibilities. Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean you have to do it. There's also responsibility to take into account the consequences. Now, the imam and the developers have said they want to build bridges. They want to break down barriers. They want to bring about reconciliation. But obviously the backlash of the -- the results that are happening are people who feel deeply offended and hurt by this.

So if they really are interested in reconciliation, to me it would show tremendous statesmanship, tremendous class, by moving the site. I think -- Archbishop Dolan today made the analogy today to Auschwitz, how Pope John Paul II asked the nuns to move the convent away from Auschwitz, even though the nuns had nothing to do obviously with the Holocaust. But the fact is he realized this was considered to be sensitive by the Jewish community. And even though they had every right to be there, he asked them to move.

I think Archbishop Dolan was making the analogy to New York; while the Muslim community has the right to be there, it's causing such pain and such suffering among good people. I think it's wrong -- and not Keith, by the way. Keith and I get along great. So I'm not saying he does it. But other people in New York who say that those who oppose this are biased, are bigoted -- these are some of the most wonderful people I know. They went through incredibly suffering on September 11th. This is now reopening that wound. I'm asking the imam and the developer to take this into account.

KING: Congressman Ellison, is there, in your mind, a compromise acceptable?

ELLISON: In my opinion, the fact is that the developer and the organizers have the right to build there, and we have to stand up for the Constitution. Larry, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. So I'm going to do my job and my duty, as I swore to uphold it.

But this great country afforded me the opportunity to swear that oath on Thomas Jefferson's Koran, because we are a country of religious liberty and we respect the religious diversity of this great country. Um, I think that Governor Paterson is making a mistake. I think that he ought to stand up for the Constitution. And I think that if we -- if before this whole thing blew up, if he wanted to work out a compromise, maybe if it was in everybody's interest, it would make sense.

But once you have people protesting and trying to stop Americans from exercising their Constitutional rights, I think that you can't possibly back down at this point. Because the message is that churches are allowed within two blocks of 9/11. Other religious institutions are allowed there. Hey, even off-track betting establishment is allowed there. But not a mosque.

And that means that we have second class citizenship for people who would go to a mosque. Well, that's Muslims.

KING: We'll be calling --

ELLISON: -- to go that way again.

KING: We'll be calling on both of you again. We have a major debate coming up on this same issue. We thank Congressman Peter King and Congressman Keith Ellison, who, by the way, are very good friends. We'll be right back.

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